How to become a dentist

Competition to study dentistry is fierce but it leads to a rewarding job where you could work for the NHS or own and run a dental practice

As a dentist you’ll prevent and treat problems affecting the mouth and teeth, deal with injuries and correct dental issues.

The most common role in dentistry is as a general dental practitioner (GDP). As a GDP, you’ll work as a self-employed contractor providing dental care to the general public in high street practices. It is also possible to work part time in hospitals. You might provide services under the NHS, privately or both.

You’ll typically lead a team of dental nurses, hygienists, therapists and technicians, and treat a range of patients, from children to the elderly.

Types of dentistry

You may choose to specialise in a different area of dentistry, such as:

  • Community dental care – working in patients’ homes, nursing homes and community clinics, treating patients who have special requirements that mean they can’t attend a high street practice.
  • Dental public health – carrying out non-clinical work, assessing the dental health needs of populations rather than individuals.
  • Hospital dental care – dealing with cases of special difficulty and providing treatment to long-stay hospital patients, emergency treatment for short-stay patients or the general public for teaching purposes.
  • Armed forces – providing a comprehensive range of dental services for armed forces personnel in the UK and abroad, operating as a military dental officer.


As a dentist, you’ll need to:

  • educate patients on oral healthcare
  • examine teeth, diagnosing dental conditions using tools such as x-rays
  • assess treatment options and agree treatment plans with patients
  • carry out agreed clinical treatments such as restoring teeth affected by decay and treating gum disease
  • maintain patients’ dental records
  • recruit, train and manage staff
  • oversee budgets and maintain stocks of equipment
  • market services to potential clients.

Some practices employ practice managers so that dentists can concentrate on clinical work.


  • As a newly qualified dentist, if you want to work in the NHS you’ll have to complete one year of foundation training. During this time you’ll earn a salary of £32,050.
  • Most dentists are self-employed contractors in general practice, mixing NHS with private work. Profits of dental practices varies greatly but in general you can earn around £50,000 to £110,000. Wholly private dentists can earn £140,000+.
  • If you enter dental core training, instead of working in general practice, you will earn a salary of £37,935 to £48,075. There are also additional payments for night, weekend and on-call work.
  • If you work as a salaried dentist employed by the NHS, mainly in community dental services, you’ll earn around £40,629 to £86,900.
  • In NHS trust hospitals, consultants in dental specialties earn a basic salary of £79,860 to £107,668 depending on the amount of years spent in the consultant grade.

Other salaried posts exist in the armed forces and in corporate practices.

Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only

Working hours

If you work as a GDP you’ll be self-employed and can arrange your own working hours, which may include weekend or evening sessions to suit patients. Career breaks and part-time work opportunities are possible.

Work within hospitals tends to be on short-term contracts and involves more irregular hours, with on-call responsibilities. Self-employment and freelance work in hospital dentistry are only possible for consultants.

What to expect

  • Jobs are available throughout the country, in both urban and rural areas.
  • When treating patients you’ll be required to wear a tunic, surgical gloves and safety glasses for protection and to reduce the risk of cross-infection.
  • Eye strain and neck and back fatigue can be caused by the job. You may experience high stress levels when handling patients’ pain and anxiety or as a result of working within strict time schedules. However, the role can also be very rewarding when you see patient satisfaction.
  • Travel within a working day and overnight absence from home are uncommon in general practice, but may occasionally be necessary for work in hospitals or the community.
  • Opportunities for overseas travel may arise to attend international conferences.

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